(Warning: This story includes specific mentions of the game in question and references to the offensive content the title contained. If you are not comfortable with references to sexual assault, this is your warning to avoid reading this story.)
A few days ago, a visual novel appeared for pre-order on Steam titled Rape Day. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the game used CG models to present the player with various options for sex crimes, murder, or anything else the self-described serial killer in the game could do. By the page’s own description, Rape Day would allow the player to “verbally harass, kill people, and rape women” as part of the core gameplay loop. Valve’s approval process on the game was slower than usual, prompting the developer to reach out and try and figure out what was holding it up. It was, after all, pretty well within Steam’s rules.
“I have not broken any rules, so I don’t see how my game could get banned unless Steam changes their policies,” the developer wrote on the game’s website. “My game was properly marked as adult and with a thorough description of all of the potentially offensive content before the coming soon page went live on Steam.”
It is important to note that this stage of the approval process is not the first one. Rape Day would have had to have been seen as a publicly viewable listing on Steam without passing the first process of review, as outlined by Steam’s developer guide.
The store listing got the attention of the Steam community and eventually Valve itself as onlookers began to wonder whether the developer was in fact right. Steam’s own policies allow anything on the store as long as it is not “illegal or straight-up trolling.” Valve has used the latter as a fairly broad cudgel for a number of games, but the more often it is used, the blurrier the line becomes. Depictions of sexual assault, while can be used in gross and inartistic ways, are also not illegal.
Regardless, Valve has now publicly said they will not allow Rape Day on the store. In a blog post today, Valve’s Erik Johnson explained their reasoning.
“Much of our policy around what we distribute is, and must be, reactionary — we simply have to wait and see what comes to us via Steam Direct,” Johnson wrote. “We then have to make a judgement call about any risk it puts to Valve, our developer partners, or our customers. After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think ‘Rape Day’ poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam.”
Essentially, Valve is expanding their rules to include games they feel might be harmful without necessarily being illegal or defined as trolling. A game which lets players engage in violent sexual assault seems to cross that line. It should be noted that pornography as a whole is not against Steam’s rules.
“We respect developers’ desire to express themselves, and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience, but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that,” the post concludes.
The developer has vowed to find other avenues of distributing the game.
My personal feeling on this is that I don’t have any problem with removing the game. Being the “Rape Day Store” isn’t a good look and Valve (rightfully) realize they don’t want that moniker. My issue here is that Valve is still insisting on an open-door policy where anything goes but will still clamp down if there’s a cost-benefit analysis that works against their favor while calling it an exception. They want it both ways: they can sit there and say anything can go on there, and thus they don’t need to pay anyone to oversee approval, but also want to give vague and often confusing explanations for certain games to avoid establishing any kind of precedent. It strikes me as cowardice born out of an extreme desire to just not have to deal with all of it until the press and the community become their outsourced moderation tools.